Why Our Faculty Are Passionate About Sociology

Why are we, the Sociology faculty, excited about Sociology and Anthropology?

We, the Sociology faculty, have been teaching and doing research in sociology and anthropology for decades. Yet we continue to be excited about our field.  Sociology and anthropology are the only two academic fields that study human endeavor that encompass the whole gamut of human activity, from face-to-face interaction and small groups to international relations among nations and global trade,  from the simplest to the most complex societies. This enables us to examine and understand the context of the parts that are the subjects of other human sciences (political science, economics, communication) and how these fit together.  The Sociology faculty have come to sociology by various paths. Below we tell our stories and describe a bit of what we do and what we have accomplished.

AVA BARON

(Ph.D., New York University; ajbaron@rider.edu) teaches courses related to law, criminal justice, employment discrimination, and gender. She has received Rider’s Frank N. Elliott Award for Distinguished Service and the Ziegler-Gee Woman of the Year Award. She founded the Law & Justice Program, served as its initial Director for seven years, and developed many new courses for it (including Criminal Justice Practice, Forensics, Criminal Investigation, Hate Crimes, and Women and Law).  She recently returned as Director of this Program, helped to develop the Criminal Justice major, and created an array of sociology courses to enhance the new major (for example, Drugs, Crime and American Society, Gender and Criminal Justice, Police and American Society, and Policing and Counter Terrorism). She also was actively involved in the early development of the Women’s Studies minor (now Gender and Sexuality Studies).

Dr Baron is an internationally recognized scholar who has published research on a range of issues.  Her research on bail procedures were part of efforts to create meaningful bail reforms.  She also has studied prison life, labor legislation, and employment discrimination.  She has published extensively on gender, masculinity and work, and on women workers in various occupations, including the legal profession.  She is currently researching the transformation of laws related to workplace sexual harassment, examining how and why social movements to protect women workers from sexual abuse shifted from criminal sanctions to civil ones, and also the ways media representations of the workplace have shaped, and been shape by, cultural ideas about sexual harassment.

She has been invited to present her research in England, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, and Japan as well as across the US. She has been a member of The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and has held research positions at Harvard University, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania.  She has twice been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“I grew up in Brooklyn, above my father’s shop where he custom-made fur coats and my mother helped customers to select a style. I was the first in my family to attend college, where I became intrigued by sociology and its ability to explain the link between society’s public issues and individuals’ private troubles. My post-graduate studies included courses in the Sociology Department and the Law School at New York University, where I concentrated on criminal law, studying with prominent criminologists. My interest in women and law were stimulated by a course I took as a law student, by my own experiences as a woman worker, and later by questions raised by students in my classes." – Dr. Baron

RICHARD BUTSCH

(Ph.D. Rutgers University; butsch@rider.edu) teaches in the areas of Media, Cultural Studies and Social Psychology. He has served as chairperson of the Department of Sociology and president of the Rider AAUP. He was 2008 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in northern Italy and a recipient of Rider’s Iorio Scholarly Achievement Award. He authored The Citizen Audience: Crowds, Publics and Individuals (Routledge, 2007) and The Making of American Audiences from Stage to Television, 1750-1990 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), which received the American Culture Association Cawelti Prize and the International Communication Association’s Best Book Award. He is editor of Media and Public Spheres (Palgrave, 2007) and For Fun and Profit: The Transformation of Leisure into Consumption (Temple University Press, 1990), and co-editor of Meanings of Audiences: Comparative Discourses (Routledge 2013). He has published numerous articles in American studies, sociology, history and communication journals. He is currently writing a global history of screen culture, a history of representations of manual labor and laborers in twentieth century American culture, and an introduction to sociology textbook.

“I came to sociology in a search for answers. In my research for a Masters degree in water resources, I came to realize that a physical analysis of a river basin was not enough to plan resource use; it required a social analysis as well. As an engineer I observed the inner workings of the largest corporations (Armco Steel and Exxon) and government agencies (US Army Corps of Engineers). At the same time I participated in the second phase of the modern civil rights movement as it moved north to seek support of urban whites, and as its goals morphed from seeking legal rights to gaining political and economic power. Having grown up in a family of steelmill workers in a working-class industrial town, I also developed an abiding interest in class inequality and mobility, which became a lens for all my research and teaching. These experiences made me want to understand why organizations work as they do, how and why inequality persisted, and how social movements change society. I began with the social psychology of face-to-face interaction that raised further questions and led me to broader sociological answers.” – Dr Butsch

JAMES M. DICKINSON

(Ph.D., University of Toronto) dickinson@rider.edu teaches courses on Cities and Suburbs, Social Change, Class and Economic Inequality, Art and Society, and The Sociology Senior Seminar.  He is a member of the Baccalaureate Honors Program, where he has taught interdisciplinary courses on art and culture.  He also is Director of the Social Work Program.

Dr Dickinson’s current research interests include change and the contemporary city, issues in contemporary art, and the sociology of architecture. He has recently written and published on the built environment of American cities, contemporary landscape and public art, and the history of prison architecture.  He has been curator of several exhibitions for the University Gallery.

“British-born, I acquired three different degrees from three different countries! My peripatetic sociological education puts me in a good position to identify what are the deep structural features shared by societies and what aspects of a culture are functions of political, cultural and historical differences.  In all my courses I bring an historical and comparative perspective to the subject, exploring the ways people shape and change the cultures of which they are a part, as well as critically analyzing the way societies like to describe themselves and the way they actually are.” – Dr. Dickinson

JEFFREY HALPERN

(Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) halpern@rider.edu is the Department’s sole anthropologist. He teaches Cultural Anthropology and Social Change. As part of his long-term research on industrialization in Ireland, he has advised its government on the social impact of economic development and policy. At Rider, he has served on numerous university committees and has been the voice of Rider’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors for three decades. He also has been active in the national AAUP. He is a recipient of Rider’s Frank N. Elliott Award for Distinguished Service. He also has served as faculty advisor to the Rider’s nationally recognized wrestling team. In the community at large he has served for two decades on Trenton’s Planning Board.

“I am engaged in a decades-long study of the effects of industrialization on a rural Irish village of Galway County in the West of Ireland on the Atlantic Ocean. I arrived there in the 1970s at a time when Ireland was poor and Galway County was the poorest. Pioneering a new area of anthropology, the interface between pre-industrial agricultural societies and industrialization, I have concentrated on this process and on work, worker’s experiences and the impact on the families and communities. For the last three decades I have continued this research as Ireland became first an ‘economic miracle,’ and recently the victim of the worldwide financial collapse. Since arriving at Rider I have added to this expertise by focusing on workers and labor law in America, and applied it in practical day-to-day issues as a union officer for Rider’s chapter of the AAUP.” – Dr Halpern

PRAKASH C. SHARMA (Ph.D., University of Georgia; sharma@rider.edu) teaches Demography, Family, and Gerontology and Health Services. He is studying caste and race relations in the U. S. and India, and the relationship between modernization and social status of the aged. He served as Advisory Review Editor for Indian Journal of Social Research and is Review Editor for International Journal of Family. He is also on the Academy Advisory Board for a textbook published by McGraw Hill.

Dr. Sharma is faculty advisor to the multicultural organization Asian Students at Rider (ASAR) and is involved in many of ASAR’s activities here at Rider University including Foodfest, fashion shows, and Indian music and dance performances. He has arranged for noted visiting speakers on Asian culture and assisted in their fundraising for several nonprofit organizations such as March of Dimes, The American Red Cross, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Radha Krishna Hindu Temple, a nonprofit organization that provides spiritual, social, cultural, educational, and housing services to the Indian community in Mercer County and surrounding areas.

“I grew up in an ancient culture and a new nation. I was born in a rural village in northern India when it was gaining its independence from Britain. As a child, I witnessed a new nation coming into being. As a teenager and young adult, I was part of the exhilarating experience of helping to build that new nation, to solve its problems and advance its new democracy. Its biggest problem was to feed its enormous population. At first, I studied agricultural science in the national effort to increase the food supply, but that made me realize that solutions to these problems were social and cultural. I was drawn to sociology and specifically to demography to help solve those problems. As a sociologist I could contribute research about the population and to teach others about it as well. In pursuit of my education in sociology I came to the United States, and since have been teaching the importance of population to American sociology students.” – Dr. Sharma

VICTOR THOMPSON

(Ph.D., Stanford University; vthompson@rider.edu) teaches sociology courses on race and crime, race and ethnicity, punishment and corrections, and research methods, as well as courses in the Law & Justice Program. At Stanford, he was a fellow at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity from 2005-2007, and taught courses on race and ethnicity, political sociology, and urban sociology. He has written on race, crime and public opinion in addition to racial classification. His dissertation, “Learning from Multiracial Identity: Theorizing Racial Identities from Response Variability on Questions about Race,” explores response variability to questions about race using census data and large sample surveys. He is currently working on the “Race, Crime, and Public Opinion” project and a longitudinal study of racial and ethnic enumeration practices on censuses and population registers around the world. He teaches classes on research methods, race and ethnicity, and race and crime.

“As a child I moved around a lot.  One of the most fascinating aspects of social life wherever I lived was always, as long as I could remember, the strange ways in which people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds interacted with each other and how society seemed to be ordered around race as much as, if not more than, any other thing I could identify. As my interest in these social interactions grew I gravitated toward sociology.  It was a natural fit for me and it gave me a toolkit from which to explore my interests.

After what seemed to be decades of schooling I am grateful to be at Rider and excited to pass on some of my knowledge through my teaching. As a first generation college student, I understand the obstacles facing our students. I believe school is the best chance, and quite possibly, the only chance for upward mobility for many of our students. I am also a firm believer in the notion that all students want to learn, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect for choosing to learn.  While there is no guarantee that school will provide students a life of job security and financial stability, they will be better off.” – Dr Thompson

BARRY TRUCHIL

(Ph.D., State University of New York at Binghamton; truchil@rider.edu) teaches courses related to political sociology, social movements, and social theory, as well as the Introductory Seminar for sociology majors.  In addition, he has taught related to law and social change, economy and society, and sports and American society for interdisciplinary programs, including Baccalaureate Honors, American Studies, and Law & Justice.  Dr. Truchil is a recipient of the Rider Distinguished Teaching Award.

Dr. Truchil has been an active member of the Rider University community for over 30 years. He served as chair of the Sociology Department for twenty years, was assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Science for 13 years, and as Acting Dean of the College for one year.  He has been a member of the Law & Justice Program Committee since its founding 20 years ago, member of the Baccalaureate Honors Program, and has been a member of the American Studies Program for 20 years. He is a recipient of the Frank E. Elliott Award for distinguished service to the University.

He is author of Capital-Labor Relations in the U.S. Textile Industry and articles on the role of the national government in economic matters. He has also written on economic development and political disputes in local government.  He has held elected office in local government in Pennsylvania, including twelve years as Langhorne Borough Council President. During his tenure as President, his town was one of the first in the country to have its municipal energy come from 100% renewable sources. He is currently President of the Board of Directors for The Peace Center in Bucks County, PA.  He is currently writing a book on political issues at local government levels.

“I decided to major in sociology  as an undergraduate because I found that my sociology courses made the most sense when explaining the important issues of society. When I attended college, there were demonstrations and protests related to various social and political movements, such supporting civil rights, and opposing the war in Vietnam. Students were reading the writings of key leaders of these social movements, such as those of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Woodstock had just taken place and the counterculture hippie movement was found on college campuses. The women’s rights movement, and the war on poverty were also taking place. Sociology provided a perspective that was very helpful in explaining the issues involved with these social movements. Its relevance for understanding social problems while providing critical research and data analysis skills made Sociology the right choice for me.” – Dr Truchil